Lesson: Relating to the Urban Environment

  • Grades: K–6
  • Subjects: English Language Arts

Students will examine a photograph of an urban scene and discuss the visual details, action found within, and where the photo was taken. Students will then write a “sense poem” based on their observations.


  • Students will use context clues to answer questions and create a “sense poem.”
  • Students will explain their own ideas and understanding in discussion and in writing.
  • Students will describe setting based on context clues.

Vocabulary: urban, poem, photograph, setting, scenery



  1. Project or handout a copy of Garry Winogrand’s photograph entitled Santa Monica, California 1978. Teachers may also choose to examine Joel Meyerowitz’s photograph Untitled (Point Park Acrobats) 1984 if they wanted to examine an image from Pittsburgh. Start a discussion by using the following questions, following-up each one with “What do you see that makes you say that?”:
    • What do you see going on in this picture?
    • What is the interaction of the people in the photograph? What are they doing?
    • What words would you use to describe this place? Why?
    • Where do you think this photograph was taken?
    • Is this similar or different from the city or town that you know? In what way?
    • Have you ever visited California (Point Park in Pittsburgh)? If so, compare what you experienced there to what you see in the photograph.

    When writers create setting, they provide descriptions that give us detail such as scenery, weather, clothing, etc. Looking at this image:

    • What time of year (season) do you think this photograph was taken?
    • What year do you think this photograph was taken?

  2. Now have students examine the photograph and think about what they would see, smell, hear, taste, and feel if they were there. Ask them to think of simple phrases to fill in the blanks of the poem.

    In the city/photograph…

    • I see….
    • I smell….
    • I hear….
    • I taste….
    • I touch/feel….

    *Students may also pick one person in the photo, and then write from their point of view.

  3. When students are finished, have a few students read their poems aloud. You could have students snap their fingers after each reading instead of clapping like the beatniks did at poetry readings in the 1950s.

Extended Lesson

  • Students write about an experience they have had in the city or a “day in the life” story.
  • Students create their own urban scene by making a collage using newspapers and magazines. Have them look for images that reflect their own personal experiences of the city.